Over the first five installments of this series, we’ve looked at the wide-ranging effects of growing up in an alcoholic and abusive household like Marty Brandel did. Today we’ll discuss what might seem like the most clear-cut of those effects, that being subjected to violence changes how people deal with their own anger, sometimes to the point that they recreate that violence in their adult lives. In this respect, Marty Deeks is both typical and atypical, and we’ll talk about why.
|Before we get started
This is not an article infused with happiness (although – spoiler alert – it eventually ends pretty well for the hero of the story). I feel it necessary to issue a warning to anyone who might be triggered by discussions of child or domestic partner abuse, alcoholism, or their aftermath.
But before you stop reading, let me add that there are an astounding number of organizations, in the U.S. and other countries, which can help those needing to escape a currently abusive situation or trying to recover from a past one. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence has a wonderfully thorough list of places where victims and survivors of domestic violence can get help, including resources for children, teens, men, women of color, the disabled, and the LGBTQ community. In addition, mentalillnessmouse on Tumblr has compiled an equally thorough lists of mental health hotline numbers and on-line resources. If you need help, take a look.
Just a few other disclaimers: Keep in mind that just because children growing up in dysfunctional homes are more likely than others to experience certain outcomes, it doesn’t mean they all will. Every child is unique, with unique experiences that affect them uniquely. Most survivors of dysfunctional families grow up to be happy, well-adjusted adults. Also: Lots of speculation ahead.
A Reservoir of Anger
You my friend, have a lot of rage.
— Sergeant Makar to Deeks in “Spoils of War”
Fear and anger are both natural responses to being assaulted or threatened. And as we learned in an earlier installment, growing up with rules of Don’t Talk and Don’t Feel can lead children to have difficulty controlling their emotions, including that anger. Combine a difficulty controlling emotions with the lesson learned that it’s OK to hurt (or be hurt) by someone you love if they make you angry, and you have potential trouble. Children in these situations may develop “high levels of externalized aggression,” meaning they easily engage in fights, destruction of property, bullying, or angry outbursts toward peers, adults, or themselves.
Do you have strong feelings of anger that threaten to overwhelm you?
Do you often feel confused by what you feel?
Are you inclined to feel a certain feeling more often than others, particularly anger?
— Journal questions in Survivor to Thriver, The Morris Center for Healing from Child Abuse’s manual for adult survivors
As adults, child abuse survivors can continue to have difficulty managing their anger. One source described the rage these adults feel as “the built-up reservoir of the anger that could never be safely expressed within [the] family.” They have a hard time knowing when anger is appropriate, or how to express it without overdoing it. They may lose their temper frequently. And their predilection for alcohol and substance abuse just compounds the chances for a loss of control and eruption of violent behavior.
The anger survivors no doubt felt as children but couldn’t express may now frighten them because they never learned how to safely express it. And as adults, it can also be scary because it is so connected to the things that hurt them as children. So while some act out aggressively, others dread the expression of their own anger and over-control it, going out of their way to avoid provocation.
A Cycle of Violence
Have you ever lost control of your anger and abused someone else?
— Journal questions in Survivor to Thriver
This combination of anger and loss of control can often lead to a continuation of the violence, an ongoing cycle that’s hard to break. Many children, even though they may have intervened on at least one occasion to stop the abuse of a parent, may identify with the seemingly more powerful batterer and adopt their attitudes – and control tactics – toward the opposite sex. These kids conclude that physical violence is sometimes a necessary and effective strategy for getting one’s way in an intimate relationship. They come to believe that the victim deserves what he or she gets. They learn that it’s best to be the one in control, and this desire for control and power manifests itself in the repetition of the abuse.
How likely is all this to happen? An estimated one-third of children who were abused or neglected go on to repeat patterns of abusive parenting towards their own children. Young boys who witness domestic violence are twice as likely to abuse their partners and children when they grow up. 70% of men in court-ordered treatment for domestic violence witnessed it as a child.
These children are sadly also more likely to grow up and be abused as adults, again repeating the cycle of violence, just as victim rather than perpetrator. Children and adolescents in families in which domestic violence has occurred are 6 to 15 times more likely to be abused. As adults, they may develop distrust of the opposite sex and negative attitudes toward marriage, and they may accept violence or other forms of abuse as natural. They may have learned as a child that they cannot control their life, that escaping violence is hopeless, and that the victim deserves what he or she gets. This “learned helplessness” allows them to become victims as adults.
It Was Self-Defense
Deeks: I was 11 when I shot him.
Hetty: He was wielding a shotgun.
Hetty: It was self-defense.
— Deeks and Hetty discuss Gordon John Brandel in “Personal”
Abused children, or children observing a parent being abused, do sometimes try to fight back. This becomes more likely as they get older, especially as they move into puberty. In other words, as they get bigger, they become physically more able to stand up for themselves or their abused parent. This type of action may even be triggered by the influence of friends and the child’s efforts to avoid feeling stigmatized by the abuse.
How often do children turn violent in an effort to protect themselves against their parents? It’s hard to say. If you google “son shoots father in self-defense,” you’ll find many examples of adult men defending themselves. Here’s one awful example of a 16-year-old Alaskan arrested for killing his abusive father. In fact, 63% of boys ages 11 to 20 who are arrested for homicide have killed their mother’s assaulter.
Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be a lot of information out there about children defending themselves against their parents with the exception of the literature on children who kill, or attempt to kill, their parents. This research shows that what often distinguishes an attempted murder from a completed one is chance, such as the marksmanship of the offender, the physical stamina of the victim, or the availability of medical care. And while we still don’t know exactly what happened to Deeks after he shot his father, it seems all too common, like in the Alaska case noted above, for the child to be arrested for the crime even if circumstances might indicate self defense.
Killing a parent (parricide) is a rare event. While the average homicide rate from 2000 – 2007 was 8.76 murders for every 100,000 people, the rate of parents murdering their children was 0.23 per 100,000 and the rate of children murdering their parents a mere 0.09 out of 100,000. This type of act is most frequently committed by sons (an estimated 90%) who are reacting violently in response to prolonged provocation and often severe physical abuse or in an effort to protect another family member. In one assessment, boys who committed parricide tended to be between 18 and 21 years of age. Only 5.3% of male offenders were age 13 or younger. Here’s the age breakdown for those boys who killed their fathers (patricides):
These children’s most common weapon? Firearms. Fathers are most often killed with handguns, likely due to the physical strength of the father and the need for decisive force. Nearly three-quarters of boys committing patricide use a gun.
So it would appear that 11-year-old Marty Brandel’s actions to protect himself and his mother were pretty unusual, especially because of his young age. Of course, he was aided by his older friend Ray, who gave him the .38 revolver he used. Without it, little Marty would have been too small to protect anyone, and he and his mother might have joined the sad statistics of those abuse victims who are killed by their abuser.
Violence Solving Violence
While some victims learn to abuse or be abused, most take away a desire to not repeat the abuse, to be better parents themselves and to protect their children against what they went through. Deeks definitely falls into this latter category. In “Plan B” we see his emotions when he learns that Ray is going to be a dad.
Ray: I got a chance to be a dad. You know what this means to me?
Deeks: Yeah, I do.
Ray: It’s gonna be different for my kid. Not like it was for us. I can do this Marty, I know I can.
— Ray and Deeks in “Plan B”
And while we know that Deeks loves kids, he expresses hesitation about fatherhood when he and Kensi discuss it in “The Seventh Child.” Perhaps he’s still worried that he won’t succeed in protecting his children from his dark side (see Max Gentry below).
Ray: Never shoot back.
Deeks: Always shoot first.
— Quinn to Deeks in “The Debt”
Marty took his lessons learned about avoiding the cycle of violence in a slightly different direction than most, with a realization that he could actually use violence to protect himself and others. As Eric Christian Olsen described it:
…This character shot his dad, you know, his dad was wielding a shotgun, he was abusive to his mother. This character killed a cop in defense of a girl. This character obviously has issues of violence solving violence, especially when it comes to women that he cares about.
— Eric Christian Olsen at London Comicon
It actually makes perfect sense. Little Marty grew up in a household where his father used violence as the means for resolving conflicts. By being forced to shoot his father in self-defense at such a young age, he seems to have come to see violence not simply as a means to resolve all conflicts, but, as ECO so perfectly put it, as a means of stopping violence. One study of parricide noted that while the motive for such an act could be the desire to protect oneself or other family members, it might engender in its young perpetrator a profound sense of liberation. Might young Marty have experienced just such a feeling?
I wanted to protect people. You know? I wanted to do something that really made a difference in peoples’ lives.
— Deeks explaining why he became a cop in “Overwatch”
The other part of his lesson seems specifically to relate to a need to protect women. This drive has such clear origins, and we see it demonstrated not just with his mother and Tiffany, but in “Human Traffic” with Jess and the “drugged, underage girls” being trafficked, in “Spoils of War,” torturing the cleric in a desperate effort to find Kensi, and more recently in “Payback” on a rampage to again rescue Kensi.
Deeks’ predilection for violence in the name of justice really makes him seem destined to become a police officer, given that he gets to carry a gun and use it to protect people. Perhaps it’s what drew him away from his law career, which lacked the immediate physical interventions against the bad guys that he learned to seek out. He has so strongly identified himself with his current profession that he can’t bring himself to become a federal agent, despite NCIS becoming the place where he feels he belongs. It’s not the abuse of his father that Deeks repeats, it’s that moment where he used the violence his father taught him in order to stop that abuse. And he’s repeating it over and over every week at work.
What happened to me, that is what drives me. That is what makes me get up every single day and do what I do to make sure the bad guys don’t win…
— Deeks to his mom in “Internal Affairs”
And even when Deeks is refraining from violence, we can see how he’s driven by his desire to protect women. He’s always shown an inclination to look out for prostitutes, whose positions in society would make them easy prey for violence and would likely trigger his protective nature with reminders of his mom’s victimization. We see this in “War Cries” when he covers for a store clerk/prostitute, and with Heidi the gym manager/ex-prostitute in “SEAL Hunter”, who reminds him that he told her she was too good to be a sex worker, giving her $50 during a drug bust rather than arresting her. When Julie/Tiffany tells Sam and Callen how good Deeks was to all the working girls, it comes as no surprise.
…if I have one regret, it’s that I didn’t do it sooner.
— Deeks to his mom in “Internal Affairs”
In my mind, that moment as an 11-year-old really did seal his fate in the same way that Peter Parker being bitten by a spider, or young Bruce Wayne witnessing his parents killed in front of him, sealed their fate to become superheroes. Marty ended the helplessness he must have felt all his life, and found power and freedom in the form of a weapon. That’s a potent experience. And it’s a compelling origin story for a fictional hero, as he twisted the violence that had always been used against him and his mom, the very thing that traumatized him, into a force for good, and into something that he seems to feed off of and hunger for.
Still Grappling with Demons
Deeks definitely seems to fall into the category of survivors who over-control their temper. Just look at how patient he is with Kensi, and the entire team for that matter, when they regularly mock him. He takes it in stride, appearing unfazed. I’ve often longed for him to show a little anger at their treatment of him, but he seems quite reticent to do so.
We have gotten small glimpses of Deeks’ losing control of his anger. The end of “Human Traffic,” when he comes close to shooting Scarli, is one. The chair-hurling and face beating in “Payback” is definitely another, as is the scene with the cleric in “Spoils of War.” In “SOW,” Deeks is so upset over Kensi’s fate that he tells Makar, “I don’t even care if [torture] works.” Eric Christian Olsen talked about that scene:
I think the character bailed on the torture, obviously, and that’s when he broke down in tears and just held onto him, because he lost himself in it. And the way that I play that is, that’s the moments when he becomes his father. Because his father was that abusive to his mother. And he realizes that’s who he’s become. So it’s more about his own fear of becoming the monster that he hates the most. So that’s where those tears came from.
— Eric Christian Olsen at London Comicon
We see Deeks’ fear of becoming his father when he has to play his “alter ego” Max Gentry. For Max is Deeks’ father come back to life. He’s Marty without the strict controls on his anger we usually see. Max is the man Deeks might have become had he learned different lessons from his childhood. Is it the man we might have seen had we been present when Deeks killed Boyle? Maybe one day we’ll find out how big a role anger played in that shooting, or whether it was simply another recreation of that night 11-year-old Marty protected another woman who needed his help.
We’re nearly done with our examination of Deeks’ childhood. Next time we’ll wrap things up with a look at some of the good things in little Marty Brandel’s life, as well as the good things in grown-up Marty Deeks’ life, that helped him to survive that childhood and become the good guy we know and love.
Want to Read More?
- Go back to the previous post in this series, A Little Delicate.
- If you’d like to know how to help those who need it, check out The Pixel Project’s “16 Ways to Stop Domestic Violence in Your Community.”
- The HelpGuide has a great overview of child abuse and neglect.
A huge Thank You to my fellow wikiDeeks collaborator Brenda for her assistance with research and editing of this article. Brenda is a nurse practitioner with more than 25 years of experience in caring for individuals experiencing significant trauma, and a PhD student whose research focuses on communication, conflict and ethics in human interactions. I’m very grateful for her input and review of this series.